Monday, July 30, 2012

Creating A Believable World (Part 1) by Lindsay J. Pryor


When I received a subtle hint to write a post on worldbuilding, I was at first excited then tentative. I was worried that those amongst us who don’t dabble in the paranormal realm might not get anything out of it. But it was only when I started drafting this post that I realised whatever subgenre of romance we write in, we all work with the same guidelines. A story grounded in reality can come across as just as implausible as one set in another time or another world. Whatever the context of your story, suspension of disbelief will always be reliant on whether:
  • the motivation of your characters is plausible;
  • your page-turning plot is generated from characters interacting meaningfully with each other and the world around them;
  • your use of backdrop is appropriate to the tone, atmosphere and context of your story. 

So here are some tips to creating that all-important believable world:

1) Develop a strong heroine.

When I say ‘strong’, I mean a heroine with:
  • A clear goal (keep her business, save her child’s life, avoid a secret being uncovered)
  • Strong and succinct motivations (revenge, duty, fear, jealousy, survival)

It doesn’t matter if she’s human or faery. Whether she’s a lawyer or nurse or head of coven of witches, give her:
  • History that’s applicable to her motivations (family, past relationships, education, successes and failures)
  • Internal conflict (insecurities of fear of being hurt, not being good enough, determination to prove herself capable)
  • Strengths and weaknesses (resilient, defensive, suspicious, over-protective) 

2) Develop a hero who is going to push her buttons.

Once you’ve done all the above for your hero too, think first and foremost of your hero and heroine (or the combination appropriate to the story) as a dynamic. Ask yourself what makes him the perfect hero for the story. Why does he have to be a doctor instead of a mechanic? Why does he have to be a vampire? What does it matter if he’s bad-tempered or easy going? Will it make a difference to the story if he’s anything else? The definite answer to the latter should be yes. You’ve made him that way for a very good reason. Or you should have.

When I say think of the hero and heroine as a dynamic, I mean they need to press one another's buttons in some way whether it be sexually, intellectually, spiritually and/or emotionally. If you don’t know your heroine inside out by the time your hero is constructed, you risk having a dynamic that falls flat. Above all, your hero needs to oppose or interfere with the goal of the heroine. And don't forget to give him a good reason for this.

3) Make sure the place and/or situation you have put your heroine in is a catalyst for conflict.

Don’t be nice to your heroine, as lovely a person you might be, you’re not there to make her life easy. Easy makes for a very dull story. You’re there to challenge her. You’re there to make things difficult. You’re there to make her journey one worth experiencing. And if you’ve made your hero particularly delectable, she needs to convince the reader she has earned him (and vice-versa).

Whether you’ve dumped her in the middle of the jungle, had the neighbour from hell move in next door, given her a new recruit who is determined to bring her to her knees or had her kidnapped in some other-wordly territory, make it relevant to the conflict of the story.

As for place, effective world building is beyond setting and describing places. It’s your characters’ perceptions, reactions and interactions to and within that world that gives your reader a real sense of where they are. Know your characters well and you’ll keep those reactions plausible – however far-fetched their situation.

4) Make that conflict real – whatever your subject matter.

Make sure your story is character driven from beginning to end. Good plot comes out of strongly-motivated characters. They have to react to events and make decisions and these need to be true to their personalities and motivations. Let them grow, develop, find out things about themselves and change in some way.

As I can’t suppress my advocacy for the paranormal/fantasy genre, there are reasons why great stories like Dracula, Interview with a Vampire and Lord Of The Rings have such huge followings. Putting the paranormal elements and creativity aside for a moment, you have hugely motivated characters with clear goals and human conditions we can all relate to. That’s your first step to creating a convincing world, whatever realm you choose.

Next month I’ll share tips on how to develop your backdrop to make your world believable. 

Thanks for stopping by. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Setting the Stage: by Olivia Miles

*Photo taken by Yours Truly on my last vacation.*
With most of the romance community at RWA this week, I've decided to give those of us "left behind" a little getaway of our own. I realized the other day that I haven't gone on a vacation or even left town in about two years - Yikes! It's a funny thing, but most of the trips I take these days are through my imagination. I've been so busy escaping to snow-covered main streets or rustic seaside towns that sometimes I am startled to look up from the computer screen and realize that I am sitting at my very own desk. In Chicago.

I've always thought that one of the greatest escapes in life is the simple act of sitting down with a good book. Without leaving the comfort of your own armchair, you can be transported into a whole other world. Well, the same goes for the writing of those books. As much as I love the idea of whisking myself away to a variety of exquisite destinations, as a writer, I do tend to write what I know it terms of location. Sure, I fictionalize the settings a bit and highlight some of the prettiest elements, but for the most part I draw on personal experience. Here's the thing, though: I only pick my favorite places - the places that inspire me the most. When I am immersed in writing a book set in that place, for a little while at least, I am there. And it's wonderful.

The real responsibility of the writer, of course, is to bring a story to life. This extends beyond the characters to include the backdrop. You have to transport the reader. I recently did a round of revisions on a book and as soon as I started going through it, I knew I had to change the location. Sure, the original location worked in the technical sense, but it really didn't add enough scenery to the story. Simply put, I wasn’t swept away. As soon as I changed that one element, I immediately knew that this was somewhere I wanted to be, and I paid special care in describing the sights, sounds, and even smells in a way that would evoke the same desire in someone else. After all, if a reader is going to invest a certain amount of time in the story, don't you think they want to make sure they really get everything they want out of their visit?

Here are a few things I consider when I am setting the stage:
  • Climate. What's the temperature like? What do your characters wear? What does the air smell like? Like crunchy leaves? Like snow? Like rain?
  • Architecture. Are the buildings made of stucco or stone? Tell the reader. They need to know where they are!
  • Landscape. What kinds of plants grow there? Are there rolling hills or flat, open roads? 
  • Sound. Is it a bustling city filled with honking horns or a beach town with crashing waves? What's going on behind the characters' words? 
  • Color. Nothing brings a story more to life than a vivid setting. What color are the flowers and the leaves? What color are the doors on the houses?

Hmm...doesn't this give a whole new meaning to that old saying location, location, location?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Taking Risks: By Natalie Charles

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads. -- Erica Jong
There has been a lot of talk about risk in the Charles household this year. After seven years of practice, Mr. Charles has decided to start his own law firm with two of our colleagues. Being lawyers, the four of us have had long discussions about risk, sacrifice, and trusting in the unknown as we’ve all tried to figure out whether it’s worth diving off the proverbial cliff for a chance at a better life. Every single detail of this move has been planned, from the space to the reclaimed wood conference room table to the decision to go paperless, but at a certain point, it’s all a deep, dark unknown. We know what we’re starting with, but we aren’t completely sure what the journey will entail. We simply believe it’s a journey worth taking.

Divin' off some cliffs, takin' some risks...
I'm not leaving Day Job to join them, but it’s a risk I’m sharing, and I’ve taken the discussions we’ve had and applied them to writing. Let’s be honest: writing is a risk. There is the risk of time spent. I don’t even want to think about all the hours it takes me to write a book. It takes lots and lots of hours over months, and there’s always the risk that the end result will be unpublishable. Or terrible. Or both.

Writing is a financial risk, as well. I refer to my writing as the third shift of my day (after Day Job and Family Job). I don’t make much money doing it, and it took years before I made a cent. My first dollar in publishing came in 2010 when I sold a 5k short story to a literary magazine for thirty dollars. That’s less than a penny per word. Another publication paid me in contributor’s copies, which are great if you’re out of kindling. I could have picked up a different job doing almost anything else and made more money with all of the time I’ve spent writing.

So why do it?

I’m not sure. It’s just never occurred to me that I should give up. I even save rejection letters. I have one from Harlequin that I received in July, 2011—about three months before I won New Voices. Here I am, about to publish with Harlequin Romantic Suspense, and that impersonal, form rejection letter still drives me. I like the idea of coming back stronger. Like anyone else, I have plenty of self-doubt, but usually I can recognize doubt for the waste of time that it is. After all, I have words to write and things to prove.

It’s easy to look at someone successful and say, “Of course. She does X better than anyone, and she got lucky when Y hit the shelves.” Fine. But that’s hindsight. That successful person was once like you and me, and success was never a foregone conclusion. That successful person had to rack up her share of rejection, grow stronger and learn from it, and practice, practice, practice.

At some point, writing, like any risk, becomes an act of faith. We have to trust. I’m looking forward to the Olympics this year because I think that those athletes are a shining example of trusting in their own abilities. Think of the time they’ve sacrificed and the many mornings they rose before dawn to practice their sport. These are individuals like us: people born with a talent that they nurtured and a dream of achievement, but success has never been a guarantee. They competed and lost, or were injured, or experienced other setbacks. And they kept coming back and taking the risk until one day they made it.

I have come to accept that there can be no success without risk and, often, some failure. We don’t risk to succeed immediately; we risk to succeed ultimately. Like Mr. Charles, I’m taking a risk because I believe the journey is one worth taking, even if the destination is unknown. At least we’re both in good company.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Mechanics on Monday: Comfort Zone, Voice, Authenticity

Today I'm going to hit "send" on a proposal that I've been fretting over for the last few weeks.  If you read my personal blog, you'll know I've complained about this manuscript a *few* times.  What's the issue?  Well, it's not what I usually write.  And I guess I'm a little bit of a chicken when it comes to doing something different.  I love routine.  I love knowing exactly what to expect-and I didn't know what to expect with this one.

The last few manuscripts I've written have been set in small towns, with a load of secondary characters that small town romances are known for.  This book, is anything but small town.  It's set in France and begins with my hero and heroine meeting in Paris.  Then they end up in the French Alps...I know, I know, why am I complaining, right?  Because as much as this is fun to write, my insecurity over not getting it right has prevented me from chugging along at a quick pace.  I've second-guessed everything. 

Thankfully, two of The Hot Pink sisters came to my rescue (or they were just so tired of reading my whining emails that they had pity on me and read the damn thing.)  I was relieved to find there were no major problems, no glaring omissions, and that they had many nice things to say-along with great constructive feedback.

So what was it that worked then?  How did I make a manuscript that took me out of my comfort zone work?  Here are some tips/tricks that worked for me:

1) Research until confident:  I had to do much more 'research' for this one.  You can't write about things authentically if you don't know enough about them.  So I scoured the Internet for pictures/descriptions of famous Parisian hotels.  I figured out the distance, the route that my hero/heroine would have to take in order to drive from Paris to the French Alps.  I did a little research on the architecture of a French chateau and what renovated ones look like.  This was so important, because if I hadn't done this, I wouldn't have had the confidence to write the setting, the characters' impressions of where they were and where they were going.

2) Stay true to your voice: I think this was integral to making the manuscript work.  But I found myself straying a little and I think that caused me a lot of doubt.  There were a few lines that just didn't sit right-because they weren't true to my voice, to my characters.  But when I identified that, I was quickly able to go in and adjust it to my own 'voice' and still have the characters behave in an authentic way.  I don't think that just because your book is different from what you normally write, that you can change your voice.

3) Write who you love:  Even though this book has more external conflict than I'm used to, and the characters have professions that are way different than I usually write, they are my classic type of character (as pointed out by the lovely, Olivia).  You can't write a different character for the sake of it.  You still have to love who you're writing about.  You have to be able to understand them inside and out.  If you can't, then your reader certainly won't love them either.

I'm going to look over the synopsis of this manuscript one last time and then, that's it, gone!  Its fate lies in the hands of my editor. 

So what about you?  Do you tend to gravitate toward writing similar settings?  Or do you like to switch things up?  Am I the only chicken around here? ;-)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

CC MacKenzie Giveaway Winners!

After a highly technical process involving pieces of paper with names on and my gorgeous house rabbit doing the selection, we have four winners of CC MacKenzie's book giveaway! Those winners are:

Greg Carrico
Natalie Charles
Shannon
Kassandra Lamb

Huge congratulations!

If you contact Christine on her email address at ccmackenzie56@gmail.com, she'll sort out your vouchers for you and let you know what you have to do.

Thanks to everyone who came along to support Christine and for all the fabulous comments.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Taking the Heat: Critique Partners by Olivia Miles

I'll admit it: learning to take criticism and use it to my advantage has been a challenge for me. It took a while for me to separate myself from my work but once I did, my mind opened up, and my writing improved. I went from wringing my hands at the thought of someone saying anything other than, “Flawless. Nothing to change!” to embracing ideas for improvement. It’s easy as writers to get completely immersed in our own work, but we are ultimately putting this work out there for the public. We are writing for the readers, not just for ourselves, and it’s therefore crucial to get an objective opinion.

I consider critique partners and beta readers an invaluable resource and there are a few tricks I have learned when it comes to critiquing someone's work and having mine critiqued in return: 

 It helps to like the other person’s writing. It seems obvious, but if you’re going to build a relationship that involves time, trust, and encouragement, you have to be a fan. 
  
 Make sure you have the time. Reading someone's work takes time, and time is a precious commodity when you are juggling a day job/kids, personal life, and writing your own books! Be committed. A strong partnership works both ways. 

Take the good with the bad and know the difference. As hard as it is to hear that a part of your manuscript might not be cutting it, remember that this is only one person’s opinion. At the end of the day, it’s still your book and if you really feel strongly about something, you don't have to change it.

 Know what you want out of the relationship and make it clear upfront. Are there specific parts of your story that are worrisome to you? Certain scenes that you’re not quite sure about? Ask. Your critique partner is there to give an opinion and answer those questions. 

 Be constructive. When you’re the one doing the critique, don’t just point out something that doesn’t work for you. Suggest some other ideas!

 Take advantage but don’t take it personally. This is a tricky one, because it is so easy to become attached to your conflict, a certain scene, or a specific character. You put a lot of time and creative energy into your effort, after all. You chose to make it the way it is; you think it’s great. Hearing someone point out things that they don’t find quite so great can really sting. Rise above it. Instead of taking it to heart, stop and think objectively. Take a step back from your manuscript and decide if they have a point. Give their opinion a chance. You asked for it.

 Be positive. I love to know what does work in my manuscript. Be sure to highlight all the parts that really grab your attention, or a specific scene or piece of dialogue you connect with. In many ways, this type of feedback is just as important as mentioning elements that need fine tuning. Lead by example.  

There’s no doubt about it: it’s scary to let someone else read your work. However, the more you do it, the easier it gets. I have a few people that read my work, but that isn’t the same as having another writer read your work. I mean, my mother has read my work, but do you think I have ever given her the entire manuscript? Heck to the no! I’ve had to scratch out entire pages of scenes that might make her pass out, scream, or never meet my eye again. My husband also attempted to read some of my work - once. He read the entire first chapter of the book that ultimately sold, as I forced him into it right before I entered the Happy Holidays contest. He really didn’t know what to say…he’d never read something like this before!

Aside from having someone to bounce ideas around with, I view a critique partner as a support system. This person has taken the time to read your work, they want you to succeed, and they have a vested interest in your project. When an editor comes back with revisions, there’s something nice about being able to talk to someone who just “gets it” because they know your story, they understand your characters, and they know what inspired you to write the book in the first place. And hopefully, they love it just as much as you do. A critique partner, after all, is your cheerleader.

And on that note, stay tuned for Part Two of my Taking the Heat series when I tackle...revisions!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Q&A with Indie Author CC MacKenzie.


When author CC Mackenzie agreed to come and sit in our hot seat, I was very excited. She’s our first indie-published interviewee and I know she has loads to share with us. This well-connected author has received 5* reviews for her first indie-published book, has a wealth of valuable insight into social media and has lots of information for those of you considering the indie-publishing route. She’s also offered to give away 2 copies of each of her books! Let’s find out more…

Q: You’re a writer of contemporary romance and urban fantasy. What attracts you to these genres? Is there a common thread that draws you to them both?

I write sexy, contemporary romance and a sexy, futuristic urban fantasy. The genres have their own ‘rules’ but the themes are the same:-
During a life changing event in their lives, two people meet, are violently attracted, overcome external and authentic internal conflicts to fallen in love with ‘the one’. And the path to true love never runs smoothly for valid reasons. The internal emotional conflicts must ALWAYS take precedence over the external conflicts in a romance.

Q: You recently embarked on indie-publishing. What prompted you to publish your work this way as oppose to the traditional route?

I got cancer in October 2009.

After spending years mastering the craft (that part never ends) I submitted again to Mills & Boon in February 2010. I received a ‘good’ rejection in June 2010 which highlighted areas of weakness with a request to re-submit the story. I decided I didn’t have a year to wait for a response and then another two years before the book’s in print. Becoming sick helped me lose the fear of failure. After a couple of big operations I finaled in three competitions in the United States in 2011, two for Harlequin and the annual Romance Junkies competition which runs from January - May. I had amazing reader feedback and hundreds of emails, which gave me confidence. And all of this coincided with the digital publishing revolution.

But before I continue, I just want to say that my dream is to be published every single possible way and that’s because the reader wants it all. My motivation and focus at all times is The Reader. Change is being reader driven and the sooner we all work together to give them what they want the better.

Q: Reckless Nights in Rome is the first novel you’ve self-published and it’s clearly holding its own without any promotion from you. Can you tell us more about it as well as the process you went through from completing the novel to getting it out there?

I’ve sold over 400 in three months and don’t promote my books. I leave that for readers to do and they’re beginning to band together. I promote CC MacKenzie as a person and as an author, because I am the brand and my stories are a product of that brand. Does that make sense to you guys reading this? Because it is a very important distinction to make when you’re dealing with social networking. Social networking is... social. So I try to think of it as if I were attending a party or a big social function where I know no one. I asked myself how would I feel if met a person who was only interested in talking about selling their books, their issues or how wonderful they were. I’d soon move on to someone more fun to be with or more interesting. It’s a high concept to get our head around but very important imho.

Reckless is the first story in a linked series about the Ludlow family of Ludlow Hall and their close friends and acquaintances. Poor boy made good, gorgeous tdh Italian Nico Ferranti acquires Ludlow Hall and turns it into a luxurious Spa and Hotel. Bronte Ludlow has lost her parents, her home, her fiancĂ©’s dumped her, and she’s moved to The Dower House where she’s set up her award winning wedding cake business. Nico wants to purchase The Dower House and  surrounding land to complete the estate. Bronte’s having none of it and when they meet it’s fireworks between them.

Reckless was the story Mills & Boon turned down and I implemented their suggestions. I changed the theme, worked on character development and made a secondary character less intrusive.

As far as getting the book ready for publication was concerned, I have a team of eight people. Reckless must have been edited at least thirty times over its life cycle. But it was a fantastic learning curve, I can’t tell you how many times I thought ‘that’s it, all done!’ And then realised it needed something more. At some point we need to let the story go. The realisation that if anything went wrong, the buck stops with me was terrifying as well as exciting and very freeing. I have three critique partners that I met online in 2009 in the Mills & Boon Romance Is Not Dead competition (now known as New Voices), two of whom are editors.

I’ve three voracious beta readers of romance, who are not writers or friends or family, and they read the final copy. I will never publish a book without their opinion. Something every author needs to get her head around is to understand that once the book’s gone it no longer belongs to the writer, it belongs to the reader.

As far as self publishing is concerned, the challenge is to make the copy as ‘clean’ as possible which meant learning digital formatting. I’m lucky, I have two technological experts living at home. The Smashwords ‘how to’ book on epublishing is free and is a must for anyone, but there are excellent people out there who will do it for an author as well as a variety of editors/copy editors/graphic designers for covers etc. Apart from editing we did the whole thing ourselves. Scary. Any questions about the self-publishing process, please ask!

Reckless has done incredibly well, especially in the United States, where it’s received 5* reviews which came out of the blue. I never ask for reviews from other writers, friends or family. It’s a bad business ethic and it annoys readers (as can be seen by the conversations about reviews on some Kindle discussion boards.)

A core group of readers set up a discussion about Reckless on Goodreads – I had no idea and was alerted via another author. The author doesn’t participate in discussions and it was a real eye opener to see what they loved or thought was missing.

Q: Your next book, A Stormy Spring, has just launched. Can we have some insider information on that too, please?

It came out on Monday and is doing well! Stormy is a story I’d been working on for almost four years but didn’t have the skills required to tell the deeply emotional tale of West End theatre and film choreographer Becca Wainwright and the big, gorgeous Spaniard and PR Guru, Lucas Del Garda. Becca is a tortured soul who’s lost such a lot in her life under tragic circumstances and has thrown herself into work to forget. One stormy night with Lucas and.... well.... that’s all I’ll say.

I always fall madly in love with my hero, but Lucas has captured a big part of my heart. He’s a true hero in the very best sense of the word.

One thing I want to say is that it’s not until a self-published author has about five/seven books out that they gain a loyal following. Things are changing as I write and reader expectations are demanding. Trying to hit a moving target is not easy. So it’s crucial that a writer doesn’t launch until they’ve at least five completed works under their belt. I’ve at least that with others in the pipeline. To have those stories behind us takes the pressure off when social networking scrambles our brain. And my vampire books are written three at a time to keep me in the series and in the head of the characters. Need to start editing those soon, I’m a month behind at the moment.

Q: You’re also self-publishing another way by serialising your novel, Desert Orchid, live through your blog. You’ve said it’s taking shape as you write. First of all, where does your courage come from to do this? And second of all, why do it?

Ah yes, the story of Queen Charisse El Haribe and Prince Khalid El Haribe. Now there’s a tortured hero. Think a cross between a champagne swilling rock star, womaniser, world renowned painter and Arab Prince who’s rejected his family, culture and country. Boy, has he had it tough and Charisse is just the woman to sort this wicked bad boy out! His uncle dies and names Khalid as his heir to run the tiny kingdom of Onnur. In order to inherit he must marry the widow, Charisse, within weeks and get her pregnant within the year (nothing like a challenge). There’s a lot of adventure in this one since their lives and the country come under threat. She’s the first person I’ve ever shot - and it was great fun:)

After Reckless was sent out into the world and even though it was well received, my mood dipped. I’ve since learned that this is a common reaction to a book being launched. Writing each and every day is key to developing and improving our craft. So after speaking to another writer, I had this brilliant idea (to keep me focused) that I would serialise a story as it went along on my blog. I must have been touched by the insanity fairy. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. But would I do it again? NO.

Q: Not only are you (clearly) constantly writing, you’re also heavily involved in tweeting, facebooking and blogging. How important do you think social media is for the writer? And how do you manage it all?

Indie writer, Diane Capri, writes legal thrillers and her eighth book has just hit No 2 beating John Grisham and she said that if it wasn’t for her WANA group’s support with guest blogging etc., she’d never have made it. It helped that Lee Child posted a link to her book and mentioned her on his blog.

Young adult indie writer, Jillian Dodd, has hit the top ten in her genre and has posted a full ‘how she did it’ interview with The Romance University (link below) and is talking honest numbers.

Both writers are part of my We Are Not Alone group. I can recommend Kristen Lamb’s ‘We Are Not Alone’ social networking group and blog. I’ve posted the link at the bottom. However, social networking is a steep learning curve for us creative types.

As far as social networking to connect to readers is concerned, it is true up to a point. But every single reader who’s contacted me wants to know when the next book’s out. That’s it. They might say they love our characters - Rosie went down well in Reckless and has her own book coming out in September 2012. But if they want to talk about a book, readers gather on the Kindle boards, Shelfari or on Goodreads and they do NOT want authors involved in their discussions. Having said that, never ever ignore a fan! These are the people who’ll buy your next book and the one after that, so the reader is my priority when it comes to responding to emails or messages.

Unless you’ve a book about to be published or published, the people you meet on social networking sites are other writers. And that’s wonderful for support and help and information gathering/sharing. The writer must find the area that works for them. The key is to find a balance. When I’m in the middle of a discovery draft, social networking is the last thing I want to do. However, there are messages to respond to and readers to acknowledge.

What works for me is to write first and then limit my time online.

I blog once a week unless something catches my eye and I never blog about my books or writing. But I will slip in that my new book’s out for example at the end (except serialising the story, but that’s on a separate page on the blog, not at the front). I need to blog more often (!) The blog is all about connecting and letting readers see how I tick. Having said all that, I am going to start a ‘Behind the Book’ weekly segment with a guest author to talk about their work. Just need to set that up. So anyone who wants a spot, email me.

But the key, the most important thing in your lives as writers is TO WRITE. So, the craft must come first, then the story.

Q: What’s the most rewarding aspect of writing for you?

The joy of writing and learning everything about my characters and what’s made them who they are and why. They’re very real to me and when a story takes off there’s nothing like it in the world.

A big part of the joy of writing for me is mentoring and encouraging others that I believe have the talent to take the world by storm. I have four fabulous writers at various stages that I’m in touch with – one of whom is called Lindsay Pryor, you might have heard of her.

Q: Who or what has been your biggest influence in your writing decisions?

Two authors I found in my childhood Elinor M Brent Dyer’s Chalet School books and the incomparable Georgette Heyer. The late Jack M Bickham’s Scene and Structure, was critical in understanding dialogue, scene and sequence structure.

Today, it would be JA Konrath and Barry Eisler for nudging me off the end of the self publishing cliff. (They do not pull their punches on the state of publishing today.)
India Grey for her advice not to ‘over think it’ and support. Jane Wenham-Jones who’s insane and wonderful and told me five years ago I was a writer. James Scott Bell who said to keep writing, don’t read reviews and have goals. His Art of War for writers is a must - read his book and all will become clear, grasshopper!

Thanks so much for coming to join us today, Christine. And thank you for offering to give away four copies of your books! If you’d like to be in with a chance to win, all you have to do is leave a comment. Names will be picked out of a hat on SATURDAY. Be sure to come back and visit as I'll be announcing the winners then. 

In the meantime, if you’d like to keep track of what Christine is up to you can find her in the following places:

email: ccmackenzie56@gmail.com





If you’d like to purchase Christine’s books, they can be found here:





And finally here are those great links Christine told us about:

Kristen Lamb’s Social Networking groups http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mechanics on Monday: Save your words by Tina Vaughn


As I approach the editing phase of my writing process for my current project, one of my favorite rules is: save your words. The phrase is actually No. 1 on my editing checklist.
The checklist is a handy guide to editing my own work. I consider the checklist a flowing document where I constantly add to my list of self-proclaimed writing evils. It includes common mistakes I make while writing–things I know I'm not supposed to be doing but in the midst of a creative roll, when the words are flowing so well, I might not catch or notice them. This is why the list comes in handy. It contains everything from my favorite overused words to special formatting guidelines from my publisher.

For me, save your words means I need to do address at least two matters in my manuscript.

The first is redundant words or phrases. These are actions that repeat or duplicate themselves, often making parts of the phrases unnecessary.

Some examples include shrugging shoulders, nodded her head, sat down, etc.

For example:
Ryan shrugged his shoulders. Isn't “his shoulders” implied?
Ryan shrugged. Same meaning, fewer words.


The next is filler words. I've also heard them called tired words. They are often used as modifiers but add no real meaning.

For example:
He's very cute. I could drop very here because it doesn't add any real meaning to cute. Your “very” and my “very” could have two very different meanings. ; )
He's cute. Same meaning, fewer words.


That and then are two of my words to abuse. If you can drop that or then and keep the meaning of the sentence intact, you don't need to use either word.

For example:
I think that you should accept my invitation to dinner.
I think you should accept my invitation to dinner. Same meaning, fewer words.

If you go to the city, then I'm coming with you. (I recall my teachers hammering the importance of the if, then statement. My, how things change.)
If you go to the city, I'm coming with you. Same meaning, fewer words.

Cutting these small, but unnecessary, words throughout your manuscript will quickly add up and help you reach your ideal word count and even allow you some wiggle room for adding depth to scenes.


So do you have a save your words approach? What tips or tricks can you offer for deleting unnecessary or redundant words and phrases?

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Q&A with Author Barbara Wallace!

I'm so excited to welcome author, Barbara Wallace to the Hot Seat today!  Barbara is an author for Harlequin Romance and Entangled Indulgence.  Thanks so much for visiting with us today, Barbara!

Q: Barbara, congratulations on your success with Entangled and Harlequin.  Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication with Harlequin Romance and then with Indulgence?

Pull up a chair, because this might take a while. I started trying to get published in the mid 1990s. In fact, I sent my first manuscript out shortly before my son was born. I got the call a couple days before his 15th birthday in 2009. In between there were a lot of close calls and manuscripts that should have been under the bed. Oh, and a couple books that were sold when POD first came into existence. Those books barely saw the light of day because the publisher quickly went under. (Like most of them back then.)

Anyway, the tide turned when I finalled in the Golden Heart. The first time – 2005 – I lost to Jennie Lucas. Then in 2007, I won! The book was Weekend Agreement. Mills & Boon passed on the manuscript, but asked me to work with an editor on developing a new story. A year later, my debut Cinderella Bride was sold.

Meanwhile, I still thought Weekend Agreement had potential. A chance conversation with author Marie Force encouraged me to take the story out and give it another chance. I had heard great things about Entangled Publishing and knew they were looking for category length books. I sent the story in, they bought it, we revised it for what was probably the fourth or fifth time, and it was published this March. Proof that good books a) will find a home and b) are revised as much as they are written.


Q: Can you tell us a little about the difference between what you write for Romance and Indulgence?

The biggest difference is the sex and sensuality. Indulgence allowed me to spend more time in the bedroom showing the more intimate moments of Charlotte’s and Daniel’s courtship. My Harlequin Romances, while sensual, close the door during sex.


Q: What are some of the challenges in writing for two different lines?

Um, keeping both houses happy? Seriously, the biggest challenge lies in the workload. Both houses have been terrific about working with me. My goal is to manage my deadlines so I honor my contractual obligations and deliver quality work to them on time. At the moment, by the way, I am not under contract with Entangled. But who knows what lies in the future?


Q: How do you balance writing, social media/promotion, and family?

I’m lucky. My son is now 18 and heading to college, which means I have from 9-5 to focus on writing. I’ll be honest and tell you the balance stuff is still tricky. I can spend way more time on Twitter than I should. On the flip side, if I’m deep into a story, I can ignore all social media for days. Neither is a good thing. I try to do a little bit of everything every day. It helps that once upon a time I had a corporate job that required many hats.

Ultimately, though, the writing is the most important thing. I’m a big believer that all the promotional work in the world won’t help you unless you deliver a quality story.


Q: Can you tell us a little about your writing process?

I’ve always likened my process to chipping my way through a tunnel a little bit at a time. The hardest part for me is the beginning. I probably write the first chapter four, five times before I’m truly comfortable moving forward with the story. The last book I turned in for HQ...I wrote the first three chapters no less than 7 times. 

Once I’m comfortable with the beginning, I can usually pull the rest of the book together. Then, once it’s done, I wait for comments from my editor. With those suggestions in mind, I break the book down scene by scene, and decide what works, what needs to be revised and what needs to be tossed out completely. 

As an aside – both the editors at Harlequin and at Entangled have been invaluable to me when it comes to revising. I am one of those authors who really loves editorial feedback. With both houses, the suggestions I get from the editorial staff have made for stronger books. I may grouse about having to do the work, but only because I’d rather be brilliant the first pass. Since that’s not going to happen, thank God for them.


Q: What is a typical work day like for you?
I get up around 6:30. Have coffee with my husband and walk my dog. Then I sit down to play on Twitter, answer email and, if it’s a blog day, post my blog. I get to work around 10AM and tend to write till around mid-afternoon. After that I focus on taking care of family business. Sometimes I’m more productive than others. I try to keep this schedule Monday through Friday.

If it’s close to a deadline, however, all bets are off. Then it’s seven days a week, twenty-four/seven till the book is done.


Q: Self-promotion is so important now for authors, especially those just starting out. Do you have any advice or tips on what you think is essential for a published author?

Promotion is important, but not nearly as important as the actual writing. Nothing is better promotion than a good book. 

Also – and perhaps this is because I’ve been floating around the industry for so many years, be authentic. I see so many writers tweet or spam FB with links, reviews, excerpts, etc. The key word in social media is SOCIAL. True promotion (and this is my Public Relations background speaking) involves building relationships. The public can smell phoniness. If you are yourself, if you engage people, chat with them, act real around them – they will buy your book. 

And, getting back to that first point – if it’s well written, they’ll keep buying books.


Q: Your latest book, Weekend Agreement, from Entangled was a huge success. I absolutely loved the book and especially the chemistry between Daniel and Charlotte. I also loved how strong a heroine Charlotte was, and that she was able to bring out a softer side in Daniel. Your characters were so vivid and real. Do you have any favourite characters? Do some characters stay with you longer than others?
Thank you for saying that ! I love all my characters. Daniel is one of my favorites because he’s so broken inside. I wanted so badly for him to have a happy ending. 

In fact, I have a real soft spot for broken heroes in general. My second favorite hero I’ve written is Jake Meyers from The Heart of a Hero. He too was a shattered soul. 
As for strong heroines – I believe that the best relationships are borne of equals. If you’re going to have a powerful man, or a strong man – then they deserve a woman who can go toe to toe. Charlotte is particularly special to me because she’s an historian. However, in all my books the women tend to be intelligent and strong.


Q: Can you tell us what you're busy working on now and what/when your next release will be?
My next book is a Harlequin Romance entitled Mr. Right, Next Door! People who follow me on Twitter might know it better as the Reluctant Cougar – it’s Twitter handle. The book hits shelves in early September. I’m looking forward to hearing what readers have to say.

Barbara, thank you so much for taking the time to join us today! 

Thank you for having me!

 
AmazonB&N

Monday, July 2, 2012

Q&A with Harlequin Desire author Andrea Laurence

Today we have Harlequin Desire's Andrea Laurence in The Hot Seat.





Andrea Laurence has been a lover of reading and writing stories since she learned to read at a young age. She always dreamed of seeing her work in print and is thrilled to finally be able to share her special blend of sensuality and dry, sarcastic humor with the world. A dedicated West Coast girl transplanted into the Deep South, she's working on her own "happily ever after" with her boyfriend and their collection of animals including a Siberian Husky that sheds like nobody's business.





Q: The journey to publication is a unique experience for every writer. What was your journey like?


Long. : )  I have been writing pretty much since elementary school. I finished my first book while I was in college, but didn’t get serious about publication until after I finished grad school. That was 2003. I joined RWA in 2004 and started learning and growing as a writer. It took a while for me to really get in touch with my voice, and when I did, even longer for me to find a place where my voice would fit. After many years and many rejections, I finally got picked from a slush pile in 2010. We worked together on a book for a while, and then ultimately they rejected it. But — they asked for a different project because they liked my writing, just not that story. So I came up with another idea, submitted it, and that’s the book Harlequin Desire ended up buying. It took over eight years and eleven manuscripts to sell.


Q: Can you describe your writing process?

I am a plotter, all the way. I usually come up with a little snippet of an idea, like a setup or a character, then I meet twice a year with my plotting group. Over the course of a long weekend, we plot about 3 or 4 books for each of us, flesh out the idea, nail down the conflict. Then I go home with my notes and write a synopsis. I write fairly long, detailed ones that I can later break out into a chapter outline of sorts. Since I plot so heavily, I have a fairly solid roadmap to where I want to go. That doesn’t mean I don’t get lost in the middle, but I have a good idea of where I need to be and that can help be bridge the gap.

I usually take the outline and start writing from that. Because I have a day job, I’m what I like to call a binge writer. I sit down Friday night and write pretty much through to Sunday evening, knocking out two or three chapters in a weekend until I’m done. Then I let it sit for two weeks. When that’s over, I go back through and read, layering and adding as I go. From there, I mail it off and hope for the best.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your July release, More Than He Expected?

When I was writing the epilogue for my April book, What Lies Beneath, I got an idea in my head about the society writer noticing a budding romance between the best man, Alex, and Gwen, the maid of honor. I hadn’t planned it, but it was perfect. Their book opens with a quick, no-string fling. They don’t see each other again until the next summer when everyone gathers for a 4th of July vacation in the Hamptons. Alex is hopeful for round 2, but when he sees Gwen, he finds she’s not only pregnant, but she’s sworn off men. There’s nothing Alex likes more than a challenge.

Q: Why do you write? Why romance?

I have to. I can’t explain it. I’ve always had the need to get these stories out. I chose romance because I wanted a happy ending. The news and reality depresses me so badly, that I want a happy ending with my fiction. No Nicholas Sparks books for me. With romance, it’s a guarantee. Romance also gave me the freedom of writing in so many different genres — romantic suspense, paranormal, contemporary — yet still stay within the same main romantic genre. Once I got into romance, and RWA, I realized what a great community of people it was, too. I don’t know that I could ever write anything else.


Q: Where do you find inspiration for your stories?

Random places. Usually nothing as exotic as people expect. I watch a lot of odd TV shows, read a lot of articles online. You never know when the tiniest snippet of a story can spark an idea. I also get inspiration from the characters themselves. For example, with Alex, I was trying to think of what kind of story hook he and Gwen would have. I had zero to start with aside from their fling. So I thought... what would be the most horrible thing I could do to him? A pregnant ex-lover fit the bill perfectly for my commitment-phobic hero. So I started from there.


Q: How do you balance your personal life, day job and writing?

Ahhh... this is always a tough one. I have a pretty demanding day job that sucks a lot of hours out of me, but does allow me to travel for conferences and things as I need to. As yet, I have no children, so I don’t have the distractions of soccer games and homework. Just lots of animals and a boyfriend, and they’re easy enough to distract.

Mainly, what I have to do is make the time to write and do as much as I can possibly do at once. There’s none of that 15 minutes a day thing with me. I have trouble writing on weeknights, so that’s when I typically work on promo or revisions. The weekends are solid writing. That’s what works best for me. Is that balance? My house is dirty, I never get any exercise, and I eat a lot of take out, so I’d probably say no, but I’m managing for now and praying that eventually, I can make enough to replace my day job and write full time.


Q: Do you have any advice for aspiring romance authors?

I have gathered some great pieces of advice over the years. Here’s what I’ve found to be the most useful. Take it or leave it. First, write. Write a lot. When you finish that first book, write another one. Try entering a few contests for feedback or submit a partial to an editor or agent, but keep going. You get stronger with every story. Don’t sit around and wait to hear back. Have something else ready to go if it comes back with a rejection.

Next, educate yourself. Join RWA. Go to conferences or attend local chapter meetings. Listen and learn. Despite what you think, you don’t know everything. Absorb information like a sponge. But don’t let it paralyze you. Take what’s useful and grow as a writer. Don’t worry about fonts and other nonsense that distracts from writing the story.

Last, follow instructions. When you’re ready to submit that MS to an agent or editor, go to their submissions page. See what they’re looking for. How they want it. This is when format matters, but not before. If they want a query letter, don’t send a partial. If they want it snail mail, don’t email them. If you can’t follow instructions now, they’ll know you can’t follow them later and they won’t want to work with you.


Q: What's next for Andrea Laurence? Can you give us a “sneak peek” at your Secrets of Eden series?

I am very excited about my new Secrets of Eden miniseries. The four book series kicks off in January 2013 with Undeniable Demands. The hero, Wade Mitchell, features in More Than He Expected in a small role. His book takes us out of New York and into the rural countryside of Connecticut where he grew up. Wade is the oldest of four foster children raised by the Eden family, who own a Christmas tree farm. Each of the four brothers will have a book that tells the continuing story about a dark secret from their past that is threatening to surface and ruin them all. The second story, A Beauty Uncovered, will be out later in the fall of 2013. I’ve got a May continuity coming out in between, but I don’t have a title yet to share.


Q: What's your favorite television show? Why?

I watch some eclectic television to be honest. The other night, I stayed up until 1AM watching a biography of Benjamin Franklin. I love History’s Mysteries, shows about serial killers, or archaeological shows about historical or biblical places. I like mystery whodunits, like Psych or Sherlock. At that same time, I also love Glee and Project Runway. So... a mixed bag. I guess it depends on whether I want to solve a puzzle, learn something new, or lose myself in cheesy showtunes.

Thanks so much for joining The Hot Pink Typewriter today, Andrea. What Lies Beneath is on my keeper shelf, and I'm looking forward to reading More Than He Expected.




More Than He Expected is available:
In Paperback:

E-Readers:




For more information about Andrea Laurence, visit www.andrealaurence.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.